How far can Apple fall from the tree?


The recent tumble of Apple’s stock raises an interesting question: How far can the price of the stock fall relative to the value of Apple’s most inherent strength, its ability to innovate?

No one knows exactly how much value investors attribute to a company’s innovative capacity and how much of that is reflected in the stock. Apple’s precipitous decline to $457.19 a share (January 29, 2013), compared to a 52 week high of $705, is more about ‘expectations’ for revenues and profits than the intangible of innovation. In January, expectations remained high despite the fact that Apple executives tried to downplay them. On November 26, 2012, John Dobosz of Forbes cited Marc Gerstein who had Apple as “Sell” and he said, “Apple stocks could slip further.” Now, after a quarterly report in which the numbers were good, just not good enough, the questions have started. Has Apple lost its edge? Will the competition make inroads? Why aren’t new products creating the same buzz? Has the bloom worn off the iPhone?

In the smartphone market, Samsung, who serves more of the lower-end market, has long been in Apple’s rearview mirror even though their phones outsold Apple in 2012, 233 million to 133 million. And Samsung’s fourth-quarter results exceeded expectations with an 89% increase in operating profit and 76% in net profit. Who’s hunting whom?

When it comes to innovation, Samsung’s approach is different than Apple’s. Simone Foxman, business writer for Atlantic Media’s Quartz, reports, “Samsung sees itself as less inventor than innovator. It builds on technologies already in the marketplace and remains open to others.”  That’s what I call ‘simple-adaptive’ innovation in that they develop products incrementally based on what they know rather than focusing on ‘disrupting’ the marketplace with transformational products. That’s Apple’s game.

Both simple-adaptive and focused-disruptive strategies work, and ideally companies want to be good at both. Now, for these two giants, it may be a question of whether Apple can become more incremental while maintaining its Steve Job’s transformational capability and whether Samsung can move beyond incremental and leapfrog into higher-end markets. It will depend a lot on their capacity to innovate. Time will tell. In the meantime, some expectation of their innovative capability will be evident in the stock price.

Innovation is in the DNA of a company and its people, and that doesn’t change with quarterly results. In Apple’s case, it may well intensify their innovative quest for the next game-changer. And when it comes to expectations, I wouldn’t bet on the apple falling too far from the tree that Steve planted.

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